WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
New Jersey: National Political Center of Gravity?
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Wednesday night, President Obama travels to Bergen County in New Jersey for a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee. Meanwhile, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is finally back in the state after spending much of the last two weeks campaigning with Republican candidates in a national barnstorming tour that included a stop in Iowa.
Former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad introduced Christie on the stump Monday. "He has reformed and cleaned up the corrupt mess that was the state of New Jersey. He is a model for what a Republican leader, what a Republican leader and Republican governor can do. It is a privilege and an honor to have the great dynamic and rising Republican governor star, Chris Christie the governor of New Jersey with us today."
Governor Christie has consistently maintained that he is not a candidate for President. But he is wildly popular across the country, thanks in part to some memorable YouTube-able moments that went viral -- one where he dressed down a reporter and another where he went into an audience at a Meg Whitman rally for Governor and confronted a heckler. Clips of him standing tough against the state's teacher's union have also burnished his image nationally. Ironically, Chrisite owes his rapid stardom to the New Jersey Education Association, who resisted Christie's call for a freeze on teachers 's pay to save the jobs of thousands of new teachers.
In addition to Iowa and California, Christie addressed enthusiastic crowds in New Mexico, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin. Yet at least one poll out of Rutgers suggests that by a two-to-one margin, voters the poll samples thought he needed to stay in New Jersey. But just this week, Newsweek's Eleanor Clift suggested that Chrsitie could be a viable Republican Presidential contender in 2012..
Meanwhile, the current occupant of the White House is headed to Bergen County Wednesday night. President Obama will be at the Cresskill home of Michael Kempner, CEO of MWW group. MWW is one of the nation's leading public relations and lobbying firms with a client list that includes major health care players, financial firms and major developers. MWW handled public relations for the long-stalled and now vacant Xanadu mega-mall in southern Bergen County. The local press says the Democratic National Committee expects to raise $1 million from 50 attendees paying more than $30,000 a plate.
In 2008, Obama shined in Bergen County, beating John McCain by more than 30,000 votes. But a year later, Governor Corzine edged out Chris Chrsitie by a mere 4,000 votes in this usually reliable Democratic County. In large measure, it was the failure of the Bergen Dems to turn out that sealed Corzine's fate on election day. At an Obama appearance on behalf of Corzine in Hackensack in 2009, the partisan Democrats began heading for the exits even as the president was still speaking.
The Bergen County Democratic Party machinery has taken a couple of body blows. Former Bergen County County Democratic Chair Joseph Ferriero was convicted on corruption charges. And, thanks to Christie's rise and local Democratic challenges, the GOP has made some inroads and now have two country freeholders on the board of seven. Democratic County Executive Dennis McNerney is locked in a tight race with Republican County Clerk Kathleen Donovan to lead New Jersey's most populous county. McNerney has the support of labor, including the Teacher's Union and the Service Employees International Union. But Donovan has scored the Laborers and the Sierra Club. This race is one to watch.